One of the most exciting aspects of the three year-old International Film Festival Rome is the New Cinema Network - Fabbrica Dei Progetti (NCN), which runs this year from October 23-27. A two-tier event, the NCN's Focus Europe fosters emerging directors from the continent, while the NCN International section promises continued exposure for 12 projects in various stages of production.

Focus Europe annually showcases directorial talents whose debut films made something of a splash. This year they include UK director Gabriel Range (Death Of A President), Spain's Rafa Cortes (Me), Romania's Tudor Giurgiu (Love Sick), Norway's Stefan Faldbakken (Uro) and Icelandic film-maker Gunnar Bjorn Gudmundsson (Astropia).

"There is quite a range of projects ... from small arthouse to commercially ambitious films," says Simon de Santiago, the Madrid-based producer who works regularly with Alejandro Amenabar. De Santiago selects the Focus Europe projects with Cedomir Kolar, the Oscar-winning, France-based producer of No Man's Land, and Italian script specialist and producer Rosanna Seregni. All have been with the NCN since it was launched three years ago. "We found quite a few trends (in this year's projects)," says de Santiago. "One is the coming-of-age and (another is) a reflection on the state of the world."

Although he says film-makers from northern Europe enjoy a strong presence this year, he says he was particularly excited by Romanian director Tudor Giurgiu's Trixy, a project about a homosexual dancer in a concentration camp. De Santiago describes it as "more ambitious in scope than the low-budget dramas we have seen from the region". He believes it would benefit from finding other financing sources.

It is in the right place. Directors do find co-producers in Rome. Last year, Belgian director Micha Wald presented the project Simon Konianski, a bittersweet comedy set in Belgium, Ukraine and Poland. The $4.1m (EUR3m) project about the relationship between a 35-year-old man and his father who are struggling to live together, is now completing principal photography. "We wanted to get a Polish producer and we found one (in a Polish facilities outfit)," says Wald of his success at the 2007 NCN. "We just needed the last piece of the cake."

But, he adds, Rome was not all business. "My producers (Versus Productions' Jaques-Henri Bronckart and Olivier Bronckart) usually go to these events. It was nice to be invited as the director."

For his part, Bronckart says the NCN enabled him to make headway finding a sales agent. Several interested parties came forward, he says, and he eventually signed with Paris-based Films Distribution.

Focus Europe's format requires a director to submit his first film and a treatment for the second. The first films receive a screening at Rome's Casa del Cinema where a jury of 10 young Italian film-makers, presided over by director Maurizio Sciarra, select their favourite film for a $5,500 (EUR4,000) prize. Additionally, the NCN presents a $41,000 (EUR30,000) prize for the best Focus Europe project. Last year's winner was Slawomir Fabicki for Bonobo Jingo about a child and a chimpanzee. Fabicki credits Rome's prize money with enabling him to finish the script and begin development. While he says the project will not shoot before 2010, the NCN showcase gave the unusual project the platform it needed. His next big challenge is finding the cast. "The hardest part is to find the right chimpanzee, some are not very good actors, you know," Fabicki laughs.

International standing

Most of the NCN international projects arrive in Rome via similar initiatives such as the Hong Kong Asia Film Financing Forum (HAF) and Cinefondation's Atelier du Festival at Cannes. This year, Rome has added ties to Film London's Emerging Producer Training Programme (Eptp) which is part of the Production Finance Market (PFM), which runs in association with The Times BFI London Film Festival. Three UK producer-led projects have been selected for participation.

Teresa Cavina, the mastermind behind the New Cinema Network, welcomed the opportunity to bring producers into the previously director-oriented event. "It is a way to put the accent on the film-maker and the producer together," she says. "It's not a casual partnership, but a relationship that is complex and deep."

Cavina describes the relationship NCN has with the international projects as an adoption of sorts. "We're aware that a project is proceeding and getting closer to the moment it will exist, and we have the pleasure of being a part of that. We are proud of the film-maker."

To help the projects meet their right partners for four days, the NCN overlaps for four days with Rome's film market, called The Business Street, which runs from October 22-26.

Cavina says one of the themes of this year's international line-up is the exploration of the effects on individuals of "a deformed social milieu, either by dictatorship, war or the distortions of the capitalist model". She cites particularly the projects of Argentina's Diego Lerman, Hong Kong's Pang Ho-cheung and Tang Xiru, Israel's Nadav Lapid, Italy's Ruggero Gabbai and the UK's Tom Collins.

International success stories from previous years include Yu Lik-wai's Plastic City, which went to the NCN in 2006 via HAF. Finally set-up as a Brazil-Hong Kong-China-Japan co-production, the film about Chinese and Japanese gangsters in Brazil screened in competition at Venice this year. "(Plastic City) embodies the wish of the co-production market of putting together a good film no matter where the filmmaker is located," says Cavina.

Indian writer-director Dev Benegal took the completed script of his film Road Movie (working title) to the NCN in its first edition in 2006. He had met the film's lead producers, Ross Katz of New York-based RK Films and Los Angeles-based Susan Landau of Thompson Street Entertainment, at Cannes earlier that year where he had participated in the Atelier.

The film, about a boy looking to escape his father's faltering hair-oil business, is now in production with backing from the Indian Film Company. "At Rome, there were several sales agents and European companies which were interested," Benegal recalls. He believes he could have found a partner at the NCN but ultimately went with the Indian Film Company as it has its own distribution network. He found the NCN a very positive experience.

"Rome wasn't just about European films but beyond Europe, and outside," Benegal says. "It was a wonderful atmosphere with lots of meetings and an incredible amount of passion. No-one was jaded, everyone was just there looking to find something different and wonderful and new. It had all the Italian charm and a tremendous amount of passion."